Thursday, March 10, 2011

Saffron Flavors of India

I've been wanting to write about Saffron Flavors of India for awhile, despite the unfortunate name, but had been holding off since lunch buffets don't photograph very well. My horribly lit dinner pictures aren't anything to brag about either, but don't hold that against the food as this just might be our new favorite Indian restaurant in town.

Saffron Flavors of India, not to be confused with plain old Saffron on East DI, is the first Indian Chinese fusion restaurant I've seen. Though traditional dishes found on the menus of most Indian restaurants make up the bulk of the menu, some interesting plates catch your attention immediately. One dish that sounded particularly enticing to us was the Paneer Chili ($7), an appetizer of homemade, mild Indian cheese dressed in a sweet and sour sauce with green peppers and onions. I know it sounds strange, but it was actually quite successful. The sauce wasn't sickeningly sweet and artificial tasting as sweet and sour often can be, and we loved tasting Chinese flavors in a dish that actually had some heat.

Non-fusion dishes were just as successful. The sauce of the lamb rogan josh ($15) was a deep brick red and flavor-PACKED, letting you know someone loved it for awhile. My mushroom and sweet corn masala ($13) was served in a sauce that was equally complex and flavorful, yet I was disappointed to see that canned mushrooms were used. The sauce was so incredible, however, I really didn't mind at all. Anyone who can make canned mushrooms taste so good gets a big culinary thumbs up from me. I also enjoyed the addition of corn, which replaced the more common peas found in many Indian mushroom dishes.

Fun little extras included a superb raita with crunchy chunks of cucumber and crispy onion pakora. If you love onion rings, the latter is a must try. We also loved the bullet naan ($5), a flatbread stuffed with cheese, potatoes, chickpeas, onion, cilantro, and green chilies. It made me think this restaurant could do well as the first Indian pizza joint.

Sadly, I fear this restaurant may not survive due to it's location. It's actually fairly easy to get to as it is right off the 95 at Craig, but the new strip center it's in is dead with no signs of budding life. Max Jacobson, if you're reading, please add this to the list of Frugal Foodie spots you've subsequently reviewed in Seven Magazine. You reach a lot more people than I do and I hate seeing these mom and pop's dissolve - R.I.P Taqueria Los Parados and Vegas Cafe.

I hope I can entice my own readers to go by mentioning that is currently offering certificates valid for dinner only. Today they have 60% off for St. Patty's Day with the code LUCKY, but if you sign up for their updates they offer discounts just as deep nearly every week. You can also same money by taking advantage of their great lunch buffet. The number of items is limited, but it's a bargain at just $8.99.

Note: Saffron Flavors of India has a full bar, great service, and pleasant atmosphere, though the decor could use a little modernization.

Saffron Flavors of India
4450 N. Tenaya
Las Vegas, NV 89129
(702) 489-7900

Pictures: lamb rogan josh (above), paneer chili (below top), mushroom and sweet corn masala (below bottom)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

La Palapa

Greetings to my followers who haven't forgotten my blog despite my haitus of nearly one month! I apologize for the much overdue post, but I've been busy with the upcoming opening of our new dog boutique, and more importantly, I just haven't been inspired by any restaurants lately (that is, until now). I've dined at La Palapa twice this week because it is a perfect Frugal Foodie spot. This Mexican seafood restaurant offers incredibly fresh underwater fare at incredibly affordable prices. Yay!

I insist that you start with a Modelo Especial served michelada style, or 'preparado' ($4). This is a light Mexican beer laced with hot sauce and fresh lime juice, served ice cold in a massive salt rimmed goblet. Sounds strange, I know, but once you try it you'll be hooked. Ian and I actually had a similar drink served to us in a plastic cup at the HUGE Broadacres swap meet on the north end LVB, which I also recommend for delicious cheap eats, but this is the first time (and certainly not the last) I've had it in a restaurant.

Then, you should order the fish taco ($3). This was primarily desirable to me because of the price, but once it came to the table I knew I wouldn't be let down. It needed a shot of acidity (may I recommend their house salsa, a dash of Tapatio, and a squeeze of lemon?) but the beer battered fish was hot, crispy, and oh so good.

The entree of shrimp served "a la palapa" (I love saying their name, try it!) came to the table looking one note and blonde, and not in the appealing sort of way men like. I was amazed, however, after taking the first bite of snappy, sweet shrimp. It was flavored with bay leaves and some sort of dried pepper, and tasted fantastic, especially when bundled up in a warm tortilla with their great refried beans and rice.

I also very much enjoyed the combination tostada of octopus (pulpo) and shrimp (camaron) ($3.75). There aren't many places outside of the Mediterranean you can get great octopus (my screen saver is a picture of the cephalopod dish we had on our cruise last year), but this was fantastic considering our desert surroundings. It was tender, yet firm, and very fresh. In fact, none of the seafood I've had here has been anything but fresh, so if you like offerings of the sea but don't want to drown in debt, La Palapa should be on your 'must visit' restaurant list (I'm not the only one who has one of those, right?).

PS. Do you like flan? Then don't pass on dessert. La Palapa's version is as creamy as cheesecake. I'm generally a poster child for self-restraint when it comes to over-indulging in foods that are very bad for you (I'm part foodie, part health nut), but I can only attribute that to my strict evaluation of whether or not something is worth the calories. The flan here most certainly is, so I left only a token bite.

La Palapa
1515 N. Eastern
Las Vegas, NV 89101
(702) 642-0699

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thai Style Noodle House

I just love Chinatown, even for the Thai food. My latest discovery, or Ian's rather, is the discreet Thai Style Noodle House located adjacent to the large Chinatown plaza on Wynn Road (a second location on Ft. Apache and Trop opened last year). Not only does it offer some of the best Thai food in Vegas, but the prices are unbeatable.

There isn't much of an ambience, but I like that quality in my favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurants. And hole in the wall this is. They aren't bringing in drive by traffic, the signage isn't great, and you park in the delivery alley, but the crowd packed in (and sometimes waiting) at lunch speaks volumes of the food and value.

The chicken larb, Ian's favorite, is top notch ($6.95, pictured above). It wan't served traditionally with a cabbage wedge, but rather with chopped iceberg. Though this is a little unconventional, I liked the salad quality of the dish. The green curry fried rice ($7.95) is filled with fresh veggies and tender slices of pork, and has a slightly creamy quality. If there was risotto in Thailand, this would be it. I also enjoyed the Choo Chee Shrimp ($8.95) and Spicy Green Beans with silky chicken ($6.75). The Beef Noodle Soup ($6.50) had an exotic favor sweetened by spices, though the beef itself wasn't as tender as I would have liked.

Everything on the menu is so inexpensive you won't worry about looking at the lunch special menu, but if you are dining alone or just not a "sharing" kind of eater, these options will allow you to try several different item combinations for under $7.

Downside: If the place is very busy, it takes awhile to get your food. The servers are attentive and polite, however, so there is comfort in knowing it isn't taking forever because the staff is slacking off. My suggestion is to avoid peak times, or order take-out.

Thai Style Noodle House
3516 Wynn Road
Las Vegas, NV 89103

5135 S. Ft. Apache #125
Las Vegas, NV 89147

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Forte: A truly European tapas place

Upon entering Forte on my initial visit, my first thought was that it was very European. This wasn't just because it was dead at lunch, as most restaurants in Europe are, but also because of the eccentric decor, dark lounge-like feel, off-the-beaten-path location, and genuine hospitality. That, and the fully stocked bar featuring very cheap glasses of delicious European wines (this I would find out later).

I've over-ordered Forte at twice now, and though I can't say everything on the small plates menu is a winner, I can say I will keep coming back due to the aforementioned charming qualities and a few unique, inexpensive food highlights (sadly, my pictures don't do them justice).

The menu is broken down by European country (mostly Eastern) and their corresponding regional specialties. Under Russia, you won't find any caviar or borscht, but you will find adjarkski kachapurri, which goes down the hatch more easily than it rolls off the tongue ($6.99). This consists of a freshly baked bread loaf akin to a short, fat French baquette, that is hollowed in the center and stuffed with cheese, butter, and a raw egg. If I lost you at 'raw egg' then let me elaborate. The egg is mixed in table-side and is cooked by the heat of the bread, turning the dish into a protein-filled vegetarian friendly dish that will change your mind about Russian food. The flavor of the crusty bread combined with the egg and cheese reminded me of a quiche, yet this was unlike anything I've ever had. Extra (yet unnecessary) points for that!

The section from Spain features a variety of chorizo sausages, amongst other items. We had the chistora and bilbao (each $2.50) which were fantastically charred and of fantastic value. These rivaled the Polish links at Costco as far as sausage bargains go, and were much better in my opinion (sorry, mom).

One note selections included the chicken skewers ($3.25 each), sauteed shrimp ($6.50), and the Bulgarian shopski served in an adorable clay pot ($6.99, and much better at another place I'll review soon). Though there are a few minor flops, the thing I love most about this place is that you can try a lot of different foods you've probably never heard of, and, if you don't like them, you haven't spent enough to regret having given them a whirl.

Coming back to the wine, I ordered a glass of Spanish Cosechero Blanco, which I was told is located nowhere else in Vegas. Guess how much? $4.50!! The owner of the restaurant, who was our waitress on my second visit, and a gem in and of herself, offered to sell me a bottle at wholesale cost when I mentioned I liked it. So, I got a bottle for later that cost me just $8.20. That pretty much sealed the deal for me!

This is a place you have to be experimental and open-minded to go to, but if you appreciate other cultures and want to join me on my mission to support the mom and pops in Vegas, then you'll have no trouble mustering the strength to go to Forte.

4180 Rainbow. Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV 89103
(702) 220-3876

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Frugal Foodie on the Road: Denver

Other than passing through the largest airport in America, I've never spent any time Denver. On a recent holiday visit I was thrilled to find the city has some fantastic and reasonably priced cuisine. This entry is for the benefit of a friend who is moving there next week.

We stayed downtown at the Hotel Monaco, where we took advantage of free wine, free cocoa, a free suite upgrade and comfy beds. The best part of the hotel, however, was the restaurant located within it, Panzano. Panzano had the best happy hour deals that I've ever seen, and unlike some happy hours, you actually would order these items even if they weren't discounted. Take, for example, the deep fried brussels sprouts with pistachios and green apple matchsticks (a revelation!) that cost only $3, or a truffle oil and mushroom pizza for $4. Since drinks in the lobby were free, I don't think I've ever spent so little on such a great culinary experience.

We also dined at Panzano for a less frugal breakfast meal, where I had a bottomless bellini and Eggs Benedict with pesto and prosciutto. It was interestingly served over sun-dried tomato polenta (another revelation). Though this was pricier than happy hour, it was still worth every penny.

Another favorite dish was at Osteria Marco, an Italian restaurant that makes their own cheese. One such cheese was an uber silky capra ricotta, or goats milk ricotta, that we spread on crusty grilled Italian bread. So simple yet so divine!

I try to avoid thinking about how much we overpay for exceptional food in Vegas, but I'm always reminded when traveling that noteworthy food doesn't have to be ridiculously expensive. I almost look forward to getting the bill after a meal in other cities. Such was the case at Rioja, where we had a six course tasting menu and four drinks for just $100. The grilled black truffle gnocchi with wild mushrooms and arugula was the highlight here.

If you get to Denver, don't miss the following:

909 17th Street

Osteria Marco
1453 Larimer

1431 Larimer

Biker Jim's Gourmet Hot Dog Stand
16th Street and Arapahoe
(unfortunately we didn't get to eat here since Biker Jim is closed on weekends, but the reviews are phenomenal)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Frugal Foodie on the Road: Barstow's finest and Santa Monica finds

There's nothing like a weekend trip to LA to whet your appetite - so many worthy places to try, so little time. I was surprised, however, to find such good eats on the way to my final destination.

If you are tired of the Mad Greek and other en route Vegas-LA eating options, boy do I have a place for you. On my last jaunt this past weekend I used my handy Yelp app to search out a more unique eatery, and stumbled upon Lola's Kitchen. This pipsqueak of a restaurant in a typically grim Barstow strip mall is run by twin sisters who cook deliciously down-home Mexican cuisine. I only sampled a couple of options, but was tempted to take the rest of the menu to go. The chicken enchilada verde was more than noteworthy, with a tangy, slightly spicy tomatillo sauce, delicately sauteed onions, and cotija cheese ($7). It was still good two days later on the Sunday drive home, when Lola's is closed.

The pork and shredded beef sopes were equally mouthwatering ($3 each). The cornmeal dough crust was expertly crispy on the bottom, and the pork in particular was beautifully fork tender. It was loaded with the freshest iceberg lettuce (not sure how but they take this staple from 'dud' to 'stud') and given a shot of sour cream and a sprinkle of cotija. I recommend these with a touch of their spicy homemade salsa. OOOOh weee. You'll really thank me for this discovery, especially since it will cost you next to nothing.

Once in LA, we went o my new favorite breakfast spot, Amelia's on Main Street in Santa Monica (previously mentioned in Frugal Foodie on the Road). I can't get enough of their lattes, a drink I never order unless I'm here. This time I tried the Chai latte - don't miss out. To bring you up to speed, Amelia's is family owned spot almost too good to be true, as not only do they use the freshest, local ingredients, but the customer service is impeccable. The owner even chased us down the street to return a bottle of veggie juice we just had blended down the street at the Great Life health food store (also highly recommended).

Though we were full after our meal, I could help but gravitate towards a sign across the street that said "Sunny Blue - first store in California to make fresh omusubi." Not knowing what omusubi was, and this being the "first" store to make it fresh, I had to try. I discovered omusubi is a warm triangular rice cake stuffed with a filling of your choice and wrapped in crisp seaweed. The version I had was made with curry pork, scallions, and fresh onion. I always try interesting things and generally they don't WOW me, but this was a definite exception. Had I not been so full I could have eaten a couple more, and for just $2.60, it would have been tempting to order one of each variety.

These spots are enough reason to take a weekend trip. Just avoid coming or going on a Sunday - you'll want to stop at Lola's on the way there and back!

Lola's Kitchen
1244 E. Main Street
Barstow, California 92311

2645 Main Street
Santa Monica, CA 90405

Sunny Blue
2728 Main Street
Santa Monica, CA 90405

Monday, December 6, 2010

My Company on!

The side deal on today (and tomorrow and Wednesday) is a gift basket of my dog food company's delicious, all-natural treats! I know you like to eat well if you read my blog, so you if you have a dog I'm sure you want them to eat well, too. The basket includes Banana Bark-scotti in a Good Dog Food Company mug, one Scooter Sandwich, one box of Doggie Truffles, one bag of our soon to be famous jerky treats, and a frisbee. Of course the treats are all-natural, wholesome, and made with no preservatives. All of this is offered for just $20 (retail value $40). Is that a frugal gift or what?!